Column: Time for players to step up in NBA lockout
JaVale McGee may not know a lot about the state of negotiations between NBA players and owners, but he seems to be a quick study when it comes to crisis control.
Say something stupid, as McGee did the other day when he suggested some players were ready to give in to owners, and the first thing he did was deny the words ever came out of his mouth.
''I never said anyone is ready to fold!'' McGee tweeted. ''Media always wanna turn it!''
Unfortunately for McGee, his words were recorded by about a dozen reporters and no amount of denials will change them. Even worse, they surely were heard in New York, where NBA Commissioner David Stern has been busy waging a one-man media blitz, blaming the NBA players' union for everything but world hunger.
The real question, though, isn't whether Stern heard McGee. It's whether the players are finally listening to Stern.
His latest threat is an NBA season that doesn't begin until after Christmas, if at all. His latest deadline is Tuesday, when owners and players are scheduled to meet with a federal mediator with almost zero chance of bridging the chasm between them.
Bit by bit, Stern has upped the pressure. Bit by bit, he's tightened the screws.
By now you would think players would have figured out he's not bluffing. Stern's willingness to quickly cancel the first two weeks of the regular season should have been a clue.
This isn't a battle the players will end up winning, no matter how united they turn out to be. Hardline owners have too much invested in the outcome, and know that there never will be a better time to take a stand.
Even Dennis Rodman, the old basketball sage himself, seems to understand that.
''I think the players should bow down,'' the retired All-Star said last week.
Perhaps they should, before the premier Christmas games are canceled, and before the entire season slips away. Take, say, half of the $4 billion the NBA generates in basketball related revenue and save the drama for the last two minutes of the game.
Accept the fact that the average NBA salary of $5.15 million is not only quite fair, but extraordinarily generous. Play basketball again instead of playing games. Understand, too, that this will not end like the NFL lockout because it's not just a fight over profits. Stern and company want to make fundamental changes to a league where the competitive balance has long been tilted and they're determined that this is the time to take a stand.
Despite what the players might believe, that's not all bad. Not when they can keep guaranteed contracts that NFL players only dream about, and not when the initial financial hit would likely be eased by growing revenues.
Until now, the union has taken a hard line in the negotiations, budging only a bit on the current 57 percent guarantee of basketball revenue to players and refusing to accept a hard spending cap. Owners, meanwhile, haven't budged much, either. They do what owners usually do in contract talks - stall until the employees start showing signs of cracking.
McGee's comment coming out of a player meeting in Beverly Hills was the first sign that might be happening. And that could be a real problem for a union that is finding it hard to muster much public support for its cause.
Dwyane Wade acknowledged as much on Friday in an interview with The Associated Press, saying that owners have sold their case to fans, while players haven't.
''That's what the NBA has done, they've done a great job of complaining,'' Wade said. ''We haven't done a great job of that so no one sees our side. They more so see the owners' side.''
That may be because no one is sure what great cause the players are trying to advance other than keeping a status quo that has made them the best paid athletes on average in American team sports. The players have yet to make a compelling case for themselves other than they don't want to give back gains from previous negotiations.
Yes, the owners drove this lockout, then tried to force the issue by canceling the first two weeks of the season. If there's not significant progress on Tuesday, expect them to vote in meetings later in the week to bid farewell to even more of the season.
Stern warned last week that the longer the dispute plays out, the worse the offers could get. Negotiating bluster, maybe, but so far he's followed through on every threat he's made.
Players need to understand their leverage is slipping. Mostly, though, they need to understand this:
America couldn't live without the NFL. But America can live without the NBA.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg (at) ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg